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Looking at Marketing Through the CEO's Eyes

Gienna Shaw, for HealthLeaders Media, October 29, 2008

Some of my colleagues have already reported on the recent HealthLeaders Media Top Leadership Teams event from the point of view of their own beats: finance, leadership, and global healthcare, for example. But taking in the views of the C-level participants through the lens of hospital marketing was a real eye-opener for me.

Sometimes it feels like CFOs, CEOs, COOs and other top administrators speak a different language than marketers. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised to hear them use many of the same words and phrases. They talked—a lot—about patient centered care, consumerism, and patient satisfaction, as well as internal communications and employee satisfaction, to name a few.

I was particularly excited to hear that so many of this year's Top Leadership Team leaders understand the role that employee satisfaction has on patient satisfaction.

One example that you could easily replicate in your own organization came from keynote speaker Al Stubblefield, president and CEO of Florida's Baptist Healthcare Corporation. He talked about the importance of sharing "feel-good moments" with employees. When a friend of a patient wrote to praise hospital employees and departments for the excellent care his friend received while hospitalized, the organization created a video of the man reading the letter and showed it to employees. Accompanying slides highlighted the individuals and departments he mentioned to show, as Stubblefeld noted, that "everybody makes a difference."

Several other speakers used words and phrases that marketers know well, including community relations, community benefit reporting, relationships with stakeholders, touch-points, branding, and transparency. Other topics that fell into the marketing domain included physician relations, increasing physician referrals, internal communications and employee satisfaction, educating disruptive doctors, recruitment, adding ancillary services such as alternative treatments, and increasing self-pay revenue.

They even talked about public relations—a discipline that doesn't always get a lot of respect from administrators, even though it should. The best line from the conference, as far as I'm concerned, came from Jeffrey Thompson, MD, CEO of Gundersen Lutheran Health System in La Crosse, WI, who said that his organization educated the community about their efforts to go green and to be using 100% renewable energy by 2014.

The community thought it was nice that the hospital wasn't killing too many patients, he said. But they thought it was wonderful that it wasn't killing too many trees.

Maybe not all of the topics I've mentioned involve the marketing department at your hospital. But they should.

There's a lesson here, and it's one I've expounded on before, but from another perspective. In the past, I've said that marketers must get out of their offices and walk the halls looking at the organization from the patient's point of view. That they should visit the parking lot to see how easy it is to park. That they should talk to the valet attendants and the volunteers and the front desk—those people that have such an impact on patients' and families' first impressions of your hospital.

Now I'm going to add another task to that list: Get out of your office and talk to the leaders at your organization. Invite them to lunch. Ask for a half hour to meet in their office and pick their brains. Ask them what topics are top-of-mind for them. Ask them what solutions they've considered and what solutions they still seek.

And then explain to them how the marketing department can help them find and implement those solutions in order to help them meet their goals.

Unless you already have an ongoing dialogue with your C-suiters (and, if so, good for you), looking at your job from the top-down perspective is sure to be an eye-opener for you, too.

CEOs, CFOs, CIOs, and other executives and leaders can be intimidating but they are, after all, your internal clients. You cannot effectively serve them without understanding their perspective and their needs. Would you ever launch a direct-to-consumer marketing campaign without understanding the needs of your target audience?


Gienna Shaw is an editor with HealthLeaders magazine. She can be reached at gshaw@healthleadersmedia.com.
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